How brand communities build resilience during crises

Jacob Borgeson

Support spikes during a crisis

Providing an excellent customer experience is always a challenge, but because of COVID-19, it’s been even tougher in 2020. Lockdowns and social distancing have necessitated dramatic digital upgrades, and work from home has impacted contact centers.

  • The increase in call volumes has delayed time to answer by ~28%.
  • Because of higher call volumes, delayed time to answer has also increased call abandonment rates by 60% industry wide, rising from 3.8% to 6.2%
  • Email as a channel has seen a 51% increase in volume during the crisis

Customers have more questions than they normally do, and those questions have higher stakes. As the world’s top brands strive to keep customers safe, healthy, and happy in any way they can, they’re looking for enterprise-level digital solutions to ease the burden.

Khoros Communities

People turn to communities

One digital tool has risen to the challenges of 2020: online communities. Khoros powers over 400 of the world’s largest brand communities, with over 2.4B total page visitors per year — and since the beginning of 2020, traffic is up 47%. Visits and registrations, two key metrics that contribute to community health, reflect a significant increase since early January:

So, why the increase in engagement in online branded communities during COVID-19?

Two reasons:

  1. These communities are networks of experts across multiple organizations and globally distributed. This gives them great flexibility to react to new customer expectations in changing environments — flexibility that contact centers couldn’t manage alone.
  2. All new visitors see answered questions, decreasing the work that experts have to do in other channels to answer those same questions. They are free to answer more questions and spend energy on more detailed responses, knowledge building, and emotional care for community members.

How communities respond

With that many posts, you would think that fewer questions would be answered, and that the answers that do come would take longer. That hasn’t happened. Throughout the spikes and dips, the constants across these 50M+ weekly visits have been response rate and success rate.

Response rate is the percent of topics posted that receive a response. Some posts don’t need responses, and some posts have responses disabled, so response rate will never be 100%. Still, this is an important metric for determining whether questions are getting efficiently answered in communities.

Success rate goes a step further, measuring not just the percentage of topics that get responses, but how often users say that the community solved the problem that brought them there. More information and activity in a community means a higher success rate, more call deflection, and a more valuable community.

Communities are resilient

So, why should you care about success rate and response rate? The first answer is that it means your customers and partners are actually getting answers to their questions and solving problems, which means you are delivering value to them through your community. Another important reason is that when these metrics are higher, they indicate a lighter load on your customer support team. The more questions answered in the community, the fewer questions your employees have to answer, and the less you have to spend on customer support.

But there’s a deeper story here as well — one about scale. As inquiries increase during a crisis like COVID-19, contact centers typically fall behind, leading to increased wait times and frustrated customers. But this doesn’t happen in communities. As inquiries skyrocketed during the first six weeks of the pandemic, response and resolution rates were stable (73% and 18%, respectively):

The reason for this trend is that communities are built to be scalable even in hard times. As communities grow, the number of people asking questions grows (that’s why we see an increase in posts during COVID-19); but, crucially, so does the number of respondents. Since online community members answer questions for each other, the growth is sustainable and does not lead to failed or extended support experiences. This unique feature allows communities to handle high-volume capacity, as well as spikes, in a way that contact centers simply cannot.

Are some communities different or better?

Khoros has a metric we use as a proxy for engagement and activity in a community: Community Health Index (CHI). We correlated some activity in the last 6 months with CHI and found positive relationships between posts (.558 positive correlation), visits (.45), and CHI. Surprisingly, we found little relationship between reply rate and success rate. It’s hard to draw a conclusion from that, but it seems like no matter where you ask questions, you are likely to get a reply of some kind. What is clear is that healthier communities draw more visitors and have more posts, especially in times of stress.

What you should be doing to drive resilience in your community

These statistics represent very good news for community managers: years of effort invested by community teams (who don’t get a lot of recognition at most brands) really paid off during this year of crises. During normal times, a community deflects at least 10% of support tickets. When those questions are brand new and happen over and over again, as they often do during a viral pandemic, deflection rates rise even higher. Even better, community activity is not a fleeting benefit; now that all these users are in the community, they are likely to stick around and see all the other benefits — and to help the next wave of visitors.

So, how can you make sure this engagement doesn’t fade away? There’s no foolproof method. Just as this pandemic was unforeseen, much of the engagement is already fading away as people around the world adjust to a new way of life. What you can, and should, do is keep encouraging your community to maintain the connections that were built during the last few months. The pandemic has created an incredibly stressful time, and everyone wants to take a break. And you should take a break from talking about it — but not forever. Here are a few things we are doing with our own Atlas community:

  • Encouraging people to check on each other
  • Continuing to share information as you discover new ways to help
  • Talking about how your business, products, and services have changed in the wake of the pandemic
  • Asking what else we can do to help

Communities are incredibly valuable right now, but that doesn’t mean they are easy to build or maintain. Make sure you are also asking for help from the rest of your organization. Too many community programs are under-resourced, and now is the time to share the valuable things that are happening and ask for more investment.

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